64 Tasting Notes
For some time now I have been rather busy and using a lot of my time revisiting teas I’ve had before, and not so long ago that I would consider them to have changed sufficiently to warrant a new note. Today, however, I decided to try my first puerh from this vendor, a prospect I met with some excitement and a tiny frisson of dread.
Regular readers of my tasting notes (both of you) may recall that I have, on occasion, had some unkind verbiage to describe the ichorous nature of wetter stores cakes I have tried. However, Jay has described many of his traditionally stored cakes as being on the milder side of the sort. Is this just because Hong Kong has inured him to the inherent dampness he is surrounded by, or would I, a Midwesterner who is mostly familiar with Kunming storage and points even drier on the spectrum, agree? Only one way to find out!
I sessioned this in a gaiwan, as I was unwilling to risk introducing funk into my clay pot reserved for aged tea. This could shed a harsher light on the tea, but it was a sacrifice I need to make, as truly nice teapots aren’t all that easy to come by around here.
I went with the double rinse protocol as suggested on the site. The rinse liquor came out a deep amber, then on the second go almost ruby. The clarity was definitely impressive for its age and storage, but there was definitely a noticeable whiff of storage about the gaiwan lid and rinse vessel. Still, the brew looked so inviting I was hardly deterred from promptly proceeding to a first brew.
There was, in the initial stages, an ever-so-gentle reminder of the origin of this tea. The flavor held just a soupcon of humidity, but was immediately overwhelmed by the smooth, pleasantly viscous sensations provided, and a lasting, enjoyable finish. There was more “tea” left to it than some unfortunate examples I’ve had previously, but barring excessively hard brewing, the bitterness was all but gone.
I don’t know how many brews I made of this tea, although doing math with gaiwan size and water consumed would imply it was solidly in the teens. It was incredibly easy to drink, while not being boring at all. There was not a lot of variability throughout the session, other than a very gradual tapering of some characteristics as the steep numbers piled up.
In short, I find this tea to be exactly as advertised, and a wonderful example of a selection which has been curated by someone who seems to really understand both the Western facing audience and the holes in the market which could be filled. I consider this to be good value for the money based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the market, and I am tremendously excited to see what else is on offer.
That being said, however, this isn’t precisely the tea that is just for me. I suspect the 8653, touted as “light traditional storage”, might be more prone to grab that title as while I will have no problem happily quaffing the remainder of this tea and enjoying it thoroughly, I suspect I want just a hair more initial character to remain. This is really nitpicking, though, as the texture and flavor of this tea opened my eyes to new possibilities for aged sheng.
The only thing this session has left me regretful about is that I didn’t buy more of his oolongs to try as well!
This tea is a solid performer, but not likely to knock anyone’s socks off. Another five to ten years of somewhat damp storage would likely do it favors, as it has fallen into the usual Xiaguan trap of being compressed to the point that it remains intact for future archeological excavations.
Still, the Malaysian storage has done this great favors, as it’s much, more more quaffable than similar Xiaguan (including the 04 cake from AiEC I previously reviewed, interestingly enough). It’s just a long way from here to there with the way Xiaguan starts out, and while the smoke has receded to an excellent level to simply be a flavor complement as opposed to the be all/end all, there’s a depth to the best factory teas that this hadn’t achieved yet. It hints at it, but for now, it’s more of a tease than reality.
If you trust your storage and like old factory tuos though, this is a great price to get in on if you think it’ll get to where some of the better tuos have. I believe it can, but not likely sitting in its cardboard box in my cabinet.
So essentially… sorry green box tuo, it really not you, it’s me.
Having now tried this tea, I completely understand why the reviews are a bit all over the place. Even beyond the simple fact that being in a trade box might not result in optimal conditions for the leaf (no disrespect intended to the wonderful Dr. Jim, whose efforts for this community I hold in the highest respect!), the tea itself is somewhat of a puzzle box.
The first few steeps, it is entirely possible, even likely, that I referred to this teas flavor as “repugnant” and “not unlike steeping a carton of unlit Benson & Hedges”. I understand, I think, why some people described a smoke flavor while others noted none – it’s so precisely a mimic of tobacco, at least to my palate, that if like myself you have never lived near where the plant is grown the natural reaction (which I had myself at first) is to associate burning, ash, and unpleasant eye-watering bar scenes with the flavor. However, critically thinking, I cannot say there actually was any smoke present, although what was present I did not enjoy.
However, the flavor was very full. This is not necessarily good when it’s a bad flavor to your tastes, but still notable as an indicator of quality. It had unfortunate length. But the body reaction was altogether pleasant, and kept the desire to continue the session alive and kicking. It was rather a reversal of something like French fries, as a kind soul pointed out to me during pontification over this odd sample. With junk food, the mouth wants more and the body suffers. This was completely the opposite.
Son where around steep 6-7, the flavor took a complete left turn and became rather pleasant, but at the cost of the vital force that made the early steeps so penetrating. It was as if the station was abruptly changed from music you dislike to your favorite tunes, but simultaneously the volume was halved. I found myself wishing the strength of the earlier steeps had intersected somewhat with the flavor I more enjoyed – but it’s entirely possible that the flavor did not alter as much as the notes I disliked weakened, allowing me to see the treasures lying beneath the surface.
The tea did not end quickly either, although it may sound like I am implying it did – a dozen or more of the more tasty infusions ensued, they were just more of the “calm and gentle” variety as opposed to the initial “boat in a maelstrom” feel.
Perhaps next time, I shall try my hand with rather less leaf, and see if that tempers the early going. I sense I haven’t found the trick to open this puzzle box yet – but as it’s out of stock, I suppose it’s all right if I never do.
If nothing else, I found this a unique experience, and those are often worthwhile ofor their own sake.
Drink well, until next I prattle at you endlessly.
I hope that the fine folk involved in the production of this tea drink it themselves. If they do, I expect that the feeling of satisfaction at having helped bring out the fullest potential of these leaves gives them a feeling of satisfaction unmatched by any I have experienced in my short time on this earth.
For all that the term “Tea Master” has a (probably deservedly) dubious reputation in the west, I challenge anyone with a discerning palate to drink this and tell me they’re not out there. They don’t need to flaunt it. They just handle their tea expertly, share it with folks they will likely never meet, and the world is a better place for it.
And the tin is terribly cute too!
First, an apology to anyone who reads my musings (no, hecklers, not for their quality). I had a lengthy bout of congestion and other such complaints this winter, and didn’t want to post tea reviews that would be equivalent to movie critiques by someone watching a heavily occluded drive-in screen from a block away and making up their own dialogue. I wouldn’t class my reviews as being from someone who fully understands or appreciates the teas in full before putting electrons to “paper”, but I at least require one legitimate session before offering an opinion, even though I needn’t fear that I hold any notable sway over public opinion.
So, on to this tea. It was a rather humbling experience trying to suss out the correct way to describe it. This is due to a phenomenon everyone I know seems to exhibit, although whether it is an American trait or more universal to human nature I do not know.
The trouble I have with this tea is, it’s perfectly fine. It’s thoroughly acceptable. It’s quite all right.
But this is damning it with faint praise, is it not? I know if I asked someone whose opinion I trusted to describe the food at a new restaurant and they described it as “all right”, I wouldn’t go. If a movie is “fine”, I don’t need to see it. I only want the amazing, the truly noteworthy. I was sipping steep 16 of this, a plant someone grew almost a decade ago nearly half a world away, and it was enjoyable, but all I could think of was thicker liquor, longer lasting flavor, and evoking deeper feelings.
I have no more of this, and perhaps for the sake of the tea, that is best. May you find yourself in a more salubrious situation next time, leaves, and not with someone who views your merits as if through the haze of your namesakes. I hope I will become a more attentive drinker from this experience, and then I will look back on you more fondly than your otherwise limited charms may have merited.
This tea starts bad, does poorly for a while, passes through a period of being plebian, and ultimately settles on disappointing.
If ever there was a poster child tea for sampling first instead of buying the whole cake, this tea is it . All the amazing qualities of ChaWangShop’s 98 You Le are turned on their head here. Still, at these prices, one big winner and one big loser equals an overall success.
Just don’t back this tea – it’s the Washington Nationals in this showdown.